Ali, UN SG discuss food & energy security, int’l financing system

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
President Dr Irfaan Ali with United Nations Secretary General António Guterres

Guyana’s leader, President Dr Irfaan Ali, has held several high-level engagements on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York during which he discussed pressing issues such as food security and climate change.

President Ali was in New York to attend the 77th UN General Assembly, being held September 20- 24 and September 26. He addressed the Assembly during the General Debate on Wednesday during which he highlighted the impactful role of multilateralism in resolving global challenges including food security – something he says Guyana is commited to playing a part in tackling.

This issue, on which the Guyanese Leader has been leading the charge both locally and regionally, was also raised during his meetings on the sidelines with several officials, including UN Secretary General António Guterres.

In a post on the Head of State’s Facebook page, it was noted that the meeting focused on the current global crisis and strategies implemented by the Guyana Government to address various challenges, including rising fuel prices.

Moreover, a brief statement from the UN Secretary General detailed that the two officials “…discussed climate change, as well as the challenges posed to food and energy security and the international financing system”.

President Ali also met with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Director General, Dr Qu Dongyu and his delegation on Wednesday.

“Discussions centred on the number of projects Guyana has undertaken in several areas, including food security. The Director General commended the President on the alignment of Guyana’s policies to several of FAO’s strategic areas,” the President’s Office said.

The Head of State was accompanied by Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Hugh Todd; Permanent Representative of Guyana to the UN, Ambassador Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett; Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud and Director of Projects at the Office of the President, Marcia Nadir-Sharma.

During his address to the sixth plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday afternoon, President Ali underscored the importance of countries being better equipped in the future in response to potential pandemics.

He noted that the global food security problem, which has disproportionately affected countries, has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. Citing the significant rise in the global food import bill, the Guyanese Leader stated that world leaders must find the balance now and work collectively to prevent situations that could widen inequality and create social as well as economic havoc.

“Now is the time for us to decide if a new approach is needed to guarantee food security, access to health care and quality education, and security from conflict and wars… A welcomed initiative is the FAO’s Global Food Import Financing Facility (FIFF), which seeks to respond to the prevailing soaring food import costs and addressing the needs of the most exposed.

“However, there is need to revise the eligibility criteria to accommodate countries beyond the categories of low-income and lower-middle income groups. This narrow grouping heightens the chance that many at-risk, economically-vulnerable countries, such as the Caribbean, with large food and food import needs, will be excluded,” he stated.

According to the President, his Government is committed to building a Guyana that addresses issues of food security, climate change, energy security, and inequalities within the country and the Caribbean region.

“We are on a path to reduce Guyana’s food import bill and increase food security – through increased cultivation and investments in new technology and smart agriculture to position Guyana as a leading food producer in Caricom. Providing incentives, capital, land and opportunities for youth and women to participate in the agriculture transformation. To this end, we have earmarked 35 per cent of all new agro-business to be led by women and have increased youth participation in agriculture with the use of technology by more than 40 per cent,” he highlighted.

On the climate crisis front, President Ali pointed out that the gap between predicted adaptation costs and existing public adaptation finance flows was generally growing and ranged from five to ten times more.

As such, he contended that the paltry US$100 billion pledge, and the failure to meet it, was not enough and must be viewed in the context of the likely costs of climate action for mitigation, adaptation, and addressing loss and damage.

The Head of State noted that the adoption of broad rules on carbon markets in Glasgow has the potential to unlock critical resources for forest-rich countries.

“Forested countries, like Guyana, can potentially earn billions of dollars accessible through the voluntary carbon markets. However, the current approximate price is US$10 per tonne on the voluntary market –whilst according to an IMF [International Monetary Fund] Report, the price should be closer to US$70 per tonne. COP27 must make progress in refining the rules for the implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and make decisions that would increase the price of carbon traded in voluntary carbon markets,” he stated.

President Ali went on to outline that the world was also faced with an energy crisis and a realistic effort was needed to strike a balance.

“This conversation must be practical, comprehensive and fact-based. We all recognise that adjustments must be made to save our planet. But how will we craft this adjustment, considering the energy and food crises which are also critical and ensure that inequality and access do not widen?”

“In this energy transition, fossil fuel remains necessary. In this context, we are convinced that new entrants like Guyana must be part of this balanced approach. Even as a new entrant, Guyana proposed, at COP26, the removal of subsidies from fossil fuel production and advocated the need for a strong global carbon price. We, however, do not believe that new entrants should be punished by removing access to financing and increasing costs of financing. This, in effect, will protect an existing monopoly, drive up the costs of investments, and deliver a higher-priced product,” the President noted.

Nevertheless, the Guyanese Leader went on to note that the Assembly must reinvigorate the spirit of multilateralism in finding solutions to the extant challenges which bedevil the global community of States.